By Hedwig Kröner in Salzburg
Ever since the course for the 2006 World's in Salzburg was announced, the big question was: will a sprinter like Tom Boonen be able to hang on until the finish or is the parcours selective enough to eliminate the fast men? Opinions have been diverging on the subject, even more so in the last couple of days.
But what did the current world champion himself think? After reconnoitring the 22km-loop around town on Friday and again on Saturday, the Belgian superstar smiled: "I'm not going to reveal you all my secrets, but I can tell you that the course is... a good surprise to me. Which was confirmed by how the Espoir race unfolded." There, a sprinter, German Gerald Ciolek, won the U23 men's event out of a breakaway, which was only five seconds faster than the bunch.
"I'm still waiting to see if my rivals can drop me in the last climb," Boonen continued. "If not, they better watch out!"
The Belgian master plan would of course see Boonen defend his title - but the strategy of the squad assembled around the two-times winner of the Tour of Flanders isn't actually that single-minded. "The power of a group resides in its ability to adapt to different situations," Boonen stated philosophically.
"We have a very good team for this race, but experience has shown that you can't control a race like this from beginning to end. But everyone of us has the level to make it to the finale and do his part of the job."
The Flandrian was alluding to his Walloon team-mate Phillippe Gilbert, who has been named by the team coach as a second leader. "Phillippe is in great shape; he proved it in the last weeks by winning some beautiful events," Boonen continued. "I'm very happy that he's here in such good condition, as my experience at Quick.Step has shown me that it's always better to have two leaders than only one.
"Because the rivals then have to split their attention automatically. If I have a bad day, my team-mates can take advantage of it as I always attract the attention of one or two rivals. In fact, this situation with multiple leaders - there is also Nick Nuyens - can be profitable for me as well as for them: if Philippe is in a breakaway, he can always argue that he doesn't have to work because I'm in the back."